Aybek Boosts Soil Fertility in the Aral Sea Region

How a Young Entrepreneur Produces Vermicompost for Sustainable Soil Health

July 20, 2023
Photo:UNDP Uzbekistan

Rising with the sun, Aybek tends to his trees, carefully checking and watering each one. Stepping outside his home, one's eyes are greeted by rows of thriving fruit trees.

Aybek Zhalgashov, a driven young visionary residing in a vulnerable household in the Bozatau district, leads a production cooperative comprising 12 youths from the neighborhood. Together, they produce organic fertilizer, specifically vermicompost, on their respective homesteads. Hailing from a family of farmers and, at the tender age of 23, Aybek is both a budding entrepreneur and a student at Berdakh Karakalpak State University. He not only produces vermicompost but also employs it in his own cultivation process.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

In the Aral Sea region, land degradation poses significant challenges for local farmers and small-scale households, compromising the quality of their crops. Many farmers unwittingly contribute to soil infertility by pursuing excessive harvests. In general, Aybek explains, "This affects the well-being and food security of the residents, undermining the growth process and their incomes, respectively. Local farmers often resort to pesticides and chemicals to achieve high yields, unknowingly harming the soil's fertility. Recognizing that the production system itself is an ecological process, my goal is to employ organic methods on my farms to enhance soil health".

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

When asked about the inspiration behind creating vermicompost, Aybek fondly recalls his childhood: "At that precious age of six, I loved picking fruit in our backyard. The process brought me immense joy and a sense of protection. I believe that was the starting point of my life, fueling my interest in trees", he adds.

Benefiting from his parents' passion for agriculture, Aybek gained valuable experience in cultivating agricultural products from a young age. Over the years, fueled by a deep love for this field, he actively sought knowledge about various technologies for organic food production.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Aybek understood that every business requires the right technology and equipment. Consequently, he invested in acquiring the necessary equipment for his farm, but lacked sufficient funds for further expansion. Upon learning about the Joint Programme by UNDP, UNFPA, and FAO, implemented in the Aral Sea region to support young entrepreneurs involved in agricultural production, he recognized the opportunity and seized it. The programme aimed to improve soil quality by promoting the use of organic fertilizers and establishing new youth cooperatives in pilot areas, including Bozatau district.

Previously, Aybek and his team employed rudimentary methods to produce vermicompost on their individual plots. However, these methods were limited to seasonal harvests. Consequently, Aybek and 12 other young individuals from the district established the Bio Organic Export LLC, a new production cooperative, to expand their vermicompost production capabilities.

Given their collective agricultural expertise and adherence to the programme's criteria, the commission members promptly approved their project funding. "Participating in this project has offered us numerous advantages. With the support of the Joint Programme, we have gained valuable experience and knowledge through training sessions on water-saving technologies, aquaculture, animal husbandry, and technology and design for enhanced vermicompost production", Aybek remarks.

Currently, the demand for vermicompost in local markets is exceptionally high. Aybek and his team have begun collaborating with major retailers in the capital city of Nukus and local farmers in Bozatau. The current production capacity of their cooperative stands at 144 tons per year, generating approximately 216 million soums in income. However, they plan to double their production capacity in the second year to enhance the cooperative's profitability. One of the cooperative members, Zhahangir Dzhandullayev, intends to utilize vermicompost to grow fruit seedlings in a greenhouse, while Aybek plans to cultivate vegetables using vermicompost in one of his greenhouse rows.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

According to Aybek, the path he has undertaken has been challenging. Nevertheless, despite the obstacles, he persists in pursuing his passion and remains steadfast in his belief in eventual success. "I firmly believe that the path I have chosen for my future is a long and arduous one, requiring unwavering attention and effort. Yet, my desire to become an expert in this field and contribute to a sustainable future continues to drive me forward", Aybek concludes, reflecting upon his journey.

Note: The trainings on water-saving technologies, aquaculture, animal husbandry, technology, and design were organized within the framework of the UNDP, UNFPA, and FAO Joint Programme, "Unleashing Young People's and Vulnerable Citizens' Creativity and Innovation by Strengthening Their Adaptive Capacity to Address Economic and Food Insecurities in Exposed Communities of the Aral Sea region." The programme is funded by the UN Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea Region in Uzbekistan with the support of the Governments of Uzbekistan, Norway, the European Union, Finland, South Korea and the “Alwaleed Philanthropies” charity organization.